In coverage of the Terri Schiavo case, CNN host Daryn Kagan and senior analyst Jeff Greenfield made sweeping assertions about public opinion of the case that are undermined by polling data.
Following footage on the March 24 edition of CNN's Live Today of protestors urging the restoration of Schiavo's feeding tube, Kagan claimed that there are “a lot of people in this country agreeing with them that this would be a death without dignity.” Kagan further claimed that there are "[s]trong, divided opinions across the country."
In a report on CNN's Live From... on the impact of the widely aired videotapes of Schiavo, Greenfield stated, “Whatever the medical facts, it is not hard to understand why the average person, looking at those images [of Schiavo], sees them as at least raising doubt.” Greenfield's remark followed footage of one of the doctors hired by Schiavo's parents claiming that Schiavo is not in a persistent vegetative state.
Kagan and Greenfield might have given viewers a more complete picture had they noted that those who support Michael Schiavo's decision to remove his wife's feeding tube significantly outnumber those who oppose it. Public polls on the Schiavo case have not specifically addressed either assertion made by Kagan or Greenfield -- whether the public feels Schiavo's death would be “death with dignity” or believes that she is in a persistent vegetative state. But polls do indicate that on the case's central issue -- the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube -- the public is not as divided or as conflicted as Kagan and Greenfield suggest:
- In a March 22 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, 52 percent of respondents agreed with that day's court decision to leave Schiavo's feeding tube unattached; 39 percent disagreed.
- In a March 21-22 CBS News poll, 61 percent of respondents thought Schiavo's feeding tube should have been removed, while 28 percent thought it should have remained in place. Further, 66 percent did not think the feeding tube should be restored while 27 percent thought it should. Asked if Congress and the president should intervene in the Schiavo case, 82 percent said no; 13 percent said yes. Even among evangelicals, 68 percent felt that the president and Congress should stay out of the matter.
- In a March 20 ABC News poll, 63 percent of respondents said they support the March 18 court decision to remove Schiavo's feeding tube while 28 percent were opposed.
From the March 24 edition of CNN's Live Today:
KAGAN: We've been listening in to both spokespeople and protestors there, outside the hospice in Pinellas Park, Florida, where Terri Schiavo is right now, expressing some very strong views, views that are controversial. A lot of people in this country agreeing with them that this would be a death without dignity, also saying allegations that Michael Schiavo has abused his wife. We need to point out in the interest of fairness that those allegations have been presented in court a number of times and not accepted by the courts of Florida. Also, there are those who believe that Michael Schiavo is trying to give his wife death with dignity and carrying out her wishes. Strong, divided opinions across this country.
From the March 24 edition of CNN's Live From... :
GREENFIELD: If there's any doubt at all, the argument goes, you must resolve it on behalf of life. Whatever the medical facts, it is not hard to understand why the average person, looking at those images [of Schiavo], sees them as at least raising doubt.